Sydney in the wee hours is a bloody, violent place where drugs, alcohol, testosterone and all-night drinking establishments create a lethal alchemy. This is the dark frontier where police try to impose order and protect the weak.
But bouncers, along with former and serving officers, say the police force has become so risk-averse and politically correct it is incapable of fulfilling its most basic function, to stop bad guys hurting good guys.
Increasingly, a private security industry is taking over the frontline response to street violence, with bouncers and guards conservatively outnumbering police two to one.
Now bouncers complain that they are shouldering the burden of a violent society, with few protections. They claim police response is inadequate, that officers often lack the physical capability to restrain violent, out of control thugs fuelled up on alcohol and drugs.
While police recruitment criteria may have relaxed,
"the primitive instincts of criminal behaviour and violent aggression by both males and females have not changed at all", says bouncer Rob, who has worked in security for 20 years. "As guards, we don't have the luxury of a choice of assistance weaponry such as pepper-spray and Tasers so any incident involving us intervening with people assaulting each other has to be dealt with by hand."
Rob, who has worked up and down the Central Coast, from the Crowne Plaza at Terrigal to The Establishment on George St, gives an example of a brawl between two men at a nightclub in Newcastle, one of whom weighed more than 120kg.
"It took five guards to restrain him ... The responding police team consisted of two females with a combined weight of possibly 100 kilos who fumbled when applying the handcuffs and did not have the strength to bring [him] under control and take him to the police vehicle."
Rob claims similar scenarios are a regular occurrence and brute force is the most effective way to quell or prevent violence.
"I have personally noticed my Tongan brothers appear to get results far quicker in warning potential troublemakers to behave themselves or separating brawling parties in venues as compared to say, a young lady from Killara. It's applied physics in relation to mass times effort put in. It's not exactly rocket-science but we are not dealing with the cultured elite most of the time in these situations."
Former and serving police also complain that the lowering of physical requirements for recruits has left them at a disadvantage against drunks and street thugs who respond only to primitive brute force.
A generation ago male police recruits were expected to be at least 175cm tall and 73 kg, with an ample chest circumference. Preferential recruitment of women has led to a rapid feminisation of the force, up from 20 per cent in 2000 to 27 per cent in 2010. In NSW fitness requirements were updated in 2010. Recruits are required to pass six physical capacity tests including agility, core strength, 25 push-ups, and a beep test.
Rob's observation is that many new-age police, while perhaps better educated than their predecessors,
"have never played contact sports growing up or even been in a fist fight. No amount of training can prepare you for violent altercations other than continued exposure to violent altercations. These new recruits simply panic when confronted with a seriously out of control situation."
And he suggests that use of Tasers and even guns is more likely in such situations.
The flip side of the story are other cases when bouncers have over-reacted, killing or seriously injuring violent patrons. Lawsuits have made pubs and clubs more wary about employing brute force. And there is another school of thought that women are better placed to defuse violent situations, and less likely to provoke troublemakers into macho displays of aggression.
One Central Coast club where Rob worked the door every Friday night for six months is a "known, consistent trouble spot (with) locals being notoriously keen to punch on". He said he never saw any "proactive police presence". Twice he and his team had to go across the street to a taxi rank to "split up two groups in the process of assaulting each other".
He says they called the police after restraining the brawlers, but both times police response came too late or was inadequate. Then in January, a couple of hours after he finished his last shift at the club, Lawrence Burke, 20, was fatally bashed at 4 am at the taxi rank in front of his mother, who suffered two black eyes.
Rob says that in his years observing violent drunks he found only a small percentage incite violence.
"The ones that do the most damage have chronic personality disorders ... They know the system backwards and aren't afraid of court or sentencing, as there are no harsh penalties. It's a game to them and they are experts at inciting and perpetrating violence for attention and entertainment.
"Every club I've worked at has a banned list and if you enforce this list and keep these people out it will run smoothly."
The solution may lie with face recognition technology, which has been installed quietly in clubs and pubs around Australia in the past three years. At one pub Rob worked at in Newcastle every patron has to go through a licence scanner and face recognition system at the entry, which makes enforcing a banned list much easier.
And the current "demerit" system which penalises pubs for violent incidents only encourages further violence.
"When an assault does occur on premises, we just split it up and release both parties out on to the street... The licensee discourages us from calling the cops as it will score marks against the venue. All this ingenious little system does in effect is reduce the call-out workload for the police who are too poorly trained in combative techniques to be of any use anyway, male or female."
As for the police, who could blame them for being risk averse, when they are punished for using force and unprotected by the courts when they are attacked?